Kevin Bruner and Dan Connors, founders of Telltale Games, sat down on the first day of PAX East to spin a yarn about where they’ve come from and where they’re going.

The company has had meteoric success with smash hits like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones. Telltale blurs the lines between games and serialized TV drama by carving up their products into two-hour experiences. And those lines are getting blurrier thanks to Telltale’s partnership with HBO in doing GoT. The recently announced collaboration with Lionsgate to make a “super show” and Lionsgate CEO John Feltheimer joining Telltale’s board of directors is another sign of the times. The merger of games and television is nigh.

Details about the super show were scant at the panel but Bruner told us, “we’ll be talking more over the summer at events like E3 and Comicon,” and that “we expect to be in the super show business for a long time.”

So how did Bruner and Connors get here? The two first linked up at Lucasarts in its adventure game heyday, working on games like Grim Fandango. The two were also the producer/programmer team behind the cancelled Sam and Max: Freelance Police. Both arrived in gaming by circuitous routes and brought to their panel tokens of a journey that seemed to predict their futures. Bruner showed a clip from an interactive movie, “Louie the Beatnik Bookie”, he and a few friends experimented with in their youth. Connors had worked on a cable access show during his time at Lucasarts; he showed a clip of a sketch where as a young man, recovering from a hangover, he realizes he’d sold his soul to the devil for a beer the night before.

Their days at Lucasarts came to an end when their new boss, a marketing man and outsider to the game industry, took the reigns. “He told us, ‘We’re going to build the best quality games, on time and on budget'” recalled Connors. That was the sign the duo took to go into business for themselves. Starting out of an apartment with a single Mac desktop computer and Connors’ wife announcing she was pregnant two days after he’d quit his job, Telltale Games was born.

Their first venture was a poker simulator, “Texas holdem was hot back then,” Bruner told the crowd. The game ultimately did not succeed, “we were out of sync with the virtual poker world,” said Bruner, “but that experience taught us and shaped us.” Telltale as a studio has been decades in the making but their humble roots have now grown deep in the industry. The duo chalk their success up to always learning, “it starts with some flawed ideas and execution but the willingness to learn” said Connors.

telltale

Looking back the two chart Telltale’s rise in eras. They started with “self contained” episodes like Sam and Max Season 1. It was also around that time they began the licensing that would ultimately become the company’s bread and butter, making detective games based on the television series “CSI”. In one episode a murder is committed at a video game convention; a game, “Fuzzy and Bill” is cancelled and an enraged programmer kills his boss.

The second era began with Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, both significant licenses for the young company. Having proved themselves capable of spinning off successful games based on big franchises, Telltale found itself ideally placed to take on even bigger clients. Their forthcoming game based on Mojang’s Minecraft, is just one example. But their true breakout hit came with The Walking Dead. “If someone told us in 2004 the game of the year would be an interactive movie based on a TV show license we’d have said you were nuts,” said Bruner. But that’s just what happened when The Walking Dead Season 1 took home the highest award in gaming.

Not many realize this but Telltale was founded as a company that made comedy games. Sam and Max being the prime example but their foray into virtual poker was sold as a “comedy poker” game. Their darker work like Wolf and Walking Dead earned them a reputation for handling blood, gore and all manner of mature subjects. But they’ve re-lit their comedy fire in the form of Tales From The Borderlands. “Internally after two years of sitting around a table figuring out ways to torture Clementine there was a release of pent up comedy,” explained Bruner.

“All of the mediums are bleeding together,” said Connors. The two seemed to have predicted this in the early 90’s and brought interactive stories bit by bit to where they are today. “We were trying to mash all these things together,” Bruner recalls in his days working in multimedia. The cross pollination of that, playing text adventures with his dad, getting in on the ground floor of the gaming industry, and ultimately meeting Connors were all pieces of the unique puzzle that is Telltale.

So what’s the next phase? Bruner drew a parallel to the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, “we don’t know what we’re going to find next” he said. The company’s more on an exciting new frontier rather than lost in space, however. The super show is the next phase for Telltale and for gaming at large.

In a world that once declared adventures games dead, the two brains behind Telltale have made (and are expanding) quite a big mark on the industry.  “Do everything people say can’t be done,” Connors told the crowd.

About The Author

Avatar
Staff Writer

Alex is from New York, is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and once played a Call of Duty Deathmatch against himself.